Book Review: Stories We Tell Our Children

stories tell children

“There is much conjecture as to how much degeneration occurred from the oral tradition, once it was set down on the page and ramrodded into the literary canon. But nothing compared to the twenty and twenty-first century mutation of the morals such tales were supposed to inculcate. Besides, contemporary children’s imaginations are scarce populated with denizens from the faerie realm. Magic and transformation these days takes place courtesy of fibre optics, usually through a gunsight and lots of pixelated cruor.”

Stories We Tell Our Children, by Marc Nash, is a collection of short stories that explore how children are shaped by the words they hear spoken by the adults charged with raising them. Although dark in places the writing style is playful. It brings to the fore how some of the best intentioned actions and interventions, when observed objectively, make little sense. It is not just parents who are put under the microscope of the author’s perceptive and piercing gaze. Many of the stories included follow the children as they grow and develop. The impact of their upbringing is often not what the parents intended or could have foreseen.

The collection opens with a mother teaching colours to her young offspring. It highlights how parents simplify facts and work to keep children engaged in such supposedly fine educational forays, while drifting off at tangents themselves. This is followed by a tale of a boy caught in the crossfire of warring parents, fearing that their battles will escalate, resulting in a murder. Children do not, after all, see the world through adult eyes. The third story looks at the tooth fairy myth, begging the question why such lies are propagated when children are routinely castigated for fibbing. The children in many of these stories are the ones offering the voice of reason.

Several of the tales are imbued by classic stories, pointing out that many of these have recently been sanitised with dubious rationale. Others deal with the lasting damage that closely involved parenting can wreak. It was interesting to consider that a degree of parental neglect can encourage a burgeoning imagination – required to overcome boredom. Many of the parents trying to raise future successes are shown to be attempting to fulfil their own dreams vicariously.

Rescinderella is a clever inversion of the Cinderella story – one I particularly enjoyed, if that is a suitable word for what is a tragedy. Certain of these tales include disturbing incidents – this is not a collection demanding a happy ever after. And it is not just the troubled who have issues. The gifted and talented also end up with crosses to bear.

The impact of books and reading are recurring themes. The author explores the fictions characters devour alongside those they create to make their lives appear more acceptable and interesting, especially to themselves. When stripped back to what is basic existence, where time passes however filled, there is a shadow of nihilism.

Yet this is an entertaining, not depressing, collection. While some of the stories resonated more than others, there is much to glean from each entry. As well as parenting habits, the author pokes fun at the conceits of creatives – with wit rather than callousness. If readers find mirrors within these words it is with a droll recognition.

The writing style employs much play on available language. The author does not employ simple language when more interesting forms of expression may be utilised. That said, there is nothing difficult in the reading.

The overarching theme may be the stories we tell our children and how these impact their development, but the tales also bring to light the stories we tell ourselves.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the author.

Book Review: Three Dreams in the Key of G

Three Dreams in the Key of G, by Marc Nash, is a book that took me some time to engage with. The language used is complex in places with much play on words not often employed in storytelling. There is a reason for this which when revealed left me exhilarated. The ideas presented and their presentation will not easily be eclipsed.

The story utilises three voices. The most accessible is that of a young mother living in small town, small minded, mid Ulster as the peace process is brokered. She is married to a staunch Loyalist, despising his hate filled rhetoric but silently. Where once she had dreams of attending university in Belfast, her family vetoed this plan due to the possible dangers a young girl could be faced with living alone in a big city. These dangers concerned the freedom from family watchfulness, freedom from the ever present threat of their opprobrium, and what such freedom might enable her to become.

The second voice is that of the human genome project – somehow the author makes this work. It explores how humans seek to understand and thereby control what they are, their essential make up. Man wishes to meddle to prolong life, to affect what he creates. There is still much that he does not comprehend about what makes him what he is. This voice is resonant with irony and wit. The details bring man down to size, mocking his earnest endeavours. However marvellous scientific discoveries may be their impact will be shadowed by other influences.

The third voice is that of an elderly lady running a refuge for victims of domestic violence in America. The state is suspicious of her attempts to escape the deleterious effects of overt masculinity. They regard her venture as a threat.

The mother writes in her journal of her thoughts and experiences with her two young daughters. Having accepted this path for her life, as is expected of the women in her family and community, she rails against its constrictions. She aims to raise her children well, with little help from her husband: “the troubles (small ‘t’)“. She ponders what her girls have inherited from their parents and how this will affect them as they develop, what language they will learn to speak.

“Cooing and trilling, sound cantered asunder like spiderlings ballooning on their silk threads. But gradually she anchors her vocal drift, as she ingests the intoned gobbets spilling from my tongue. I watch her kneading the sounds, hands to mouth, a second, invisible umbilical from me to her. Passing along my dead language. That parched parchment from my cracked and parched lips that will not quench her thirst for congruence. For I recognise it will only succeed in re-sealing the esophagal aperture magically parted by her genes.”

“A dead language emanating from someone who scarcely lives a life. But even this is not the mummifying cause. The language, my language, is sententious and doctrinaire. Replete with exclamations, directives and interrogatives.”

“So the everyday arpeggio of parenting inevitably thrums and frets my stretched nerve strings. Single noted, sharp and shrill, instead of flat and even. A drone all the same. Off-kilter rather than merely off key. Whatever the issue at hand, the tilting ground, the mittened gauntlet thrown down is ratcheted up into a disproportionate response on my part. Since, no matter how much it is cloaked with the pathognomy of tiredness or frustration, behind each and every one of my emissions flares the filament of anger. The incendiary of rage and dejection at myself and what I have become.”

As the mother goes through her days – shopping, school runs, desolate beach trips, daytime TV – the genome project churns out its findings, musing on why it is being attempted.

“For there is only Sex and Death. Passing on and passing over and vice versa. How your trepidation over mortality feeds into your procreative drive. The pair intertwined round one another like poison ivy.”

“I deal in the architecture of potentia, where you are grounded in the material shoring of tenure. See, the key difference between you and I is that life and time stretch everlasting into the future, for me as DNA and you as my prized host bloodstock. But not for you as individuals.”

In the refuge women are also procreating, but not with those who drove them to reside in this place. Their choices, their autonomy to make such choices, are what the state sees as a threat. Women should exist for man’s pleasure and the perpetuation of his genes.

This is remarkable writing that explores man’s proclivities and purported cleverness. Each relationship is shown to be one sided, supposed understanding a reflection of self. Man can draw the map and tinker around the edges of the detail, but how much of true note can be changed?

All of this is explored, dissected, and presented in language rich with depth and meaning. The conclusions are salient yet, when considered dispassionately, unsurprising. Man chooses to ignore so much in plain sight as he strokes his prejudices and vanities.

A book that soars and leaves a frisson in its contrails. A challenging, stunning, wholly satisfying creation.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Dead Ink.